The Path to Zero-Emission Wine Shipping

With options growing for low-carbon shipping and freight, the wine industry is looking for new ways to lessen the climate impact of its global transportation network 

A rendering of the 250-foot schooner soon to be launched by TransOceanic Wind Transport (TOWT), capable of carrying 1,000 tons of cargo at a 90 percent lower carbon footprint than diesel ships.
A rendering of the 250-foot schooner soon to be launched by TransOceanic Wind Transport (TOWT), capable of carrying 1,000 tons of cargo at a 90 percent lower carbon footprint than diesel ships. Photo credit: TOWT Piriou.

In the early 2000s, Anton Mann and Lela McTernan were driving Spanish and Portuguese wines into Britain in a truck that ran on used vegetable oil. In 2012, they started Xisto Wines, bringing bottles from Porto to Bristol on sailboats operated by the Dutch company Fairtransport as part of a project dubbed Port O’Bristol

The couple asks producers to share space in trucks to lower the emissions of shipments into Porto. Sometimes they ship in barrels, repurposing used bottles to deliver wines around Bristol. They pay all cargo taxes up front to avoid wrapping pallets in plastic and trucking them further to a government-bonded warehouse, where imports are normally stored and taxed when sold. And they track the emissions of every shipment. Though Mann estimates that their shipping adds “at least an English pound more per bottle,” they’ve achieved a 99.6 percent reduction in emissions. Port O’Bristol is, in short, an artisanal case study for how to decarbonize wine shipping. 

But even companies bigger and not as mission-driven as Xisto are strategizing reductions in the greenhouse gasses (GHGs) of their distribution networks. The transport industry accounts for eight percent of global carbon emissions, or three billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually, according to Michael Maass, the vice president for sustainable solutions at sea for logistics company Kuehne+Nagel, who spoke on a recent Institute of Masters of Wine webinar. The world’s top wine-producing countries—France, Italy, the U.S., Australia, Chile, Argentina, and South Africa—have pledged to be net zero by 2050. Shareholders and lenders are demanding accountability on carbon usage, including in the supply chain. The time has come for the wine industry to reckon with the climate impact of its global transportation. 

That reckoning is not without its challenges. “It is a puzzle,” explains Nicolas Quillé, the chief winemaking and operations officer for Crimson Wine Group, which has wineries throughout the U.S. West Coast. Grape growers bring fruit to wineries in their own trucks or through contractors. Wineries move wine between their own facilities and hire logistics companies for direct-to-consumer (DTC) deliveries. Distributors control shipping to warehouses for wholesale. “There are all these actors,” he says, adding that wineries have little sway over wholesalers’ choice of transport. Crimson Wine Group, however, is a member of International Wineries for Climate Action (IWCA), a group working toward net zero by 2050. “There are savings for those who want to reinvent their supply chain,” says Quille. “And eventually the whole supply chain is going to be forced to make changes.”

Transportation innovations are coming that will help the wine world meet climate mandates. As Roger Strevens, the vice president for global sustainability at the shipping and logistics company Willenius Wilhelmsen, said on a recent webcast: “Across the industry, there is no uncertainty about whether there’s going to be decarbonization. It’s how, when. It’s very action-oriented.” 

SevenFifty Daily spoke to climate-smart wine pros and green shipping experts to outline the steps that the industry can take now and in the near future to decarbonize its supply chain.

In This Article:

Forgoing or Offsetting Air Freight

“Just 0.4 percent of our volume is transported by plane, but that encompasses 39 percent of our freight emissions,” says Jeanne-Marie Voigt, the project management engineer on climate and carbon for Vins de Bordeaux (CIVB), which represents the French region’s producers. “We’re working right now to replace the plane.” 

Molly Sheppard, the assistant winemaker and environmental manager at Napa Valley’s Spottswoode, calculates that air freight emits nine times the carbon of ground transport, so her IWCA-member winery has started shipping to regional hubs via Vine Vault, a refrigerated truck service. It’s more expensive, a cost difference the winery absorbs, and “it takes a long time because you wait for enough fulfillment from Napa for a full truck,” says Sheppard, “but no one buying Cabernet is opening it immediately. We need to educate the consumer to wait six to eight weeks, rather than two days for FedEx air.”

The team at Free Flow Wines, which offers a sustainable packaging service with kegs that can be double stacked for better efficiency. Photo courtesy of Free Flow Wines.

Without policy changes, however, air freight can seem unavoidable. Despite the country’s net-zero targets, Sweden’s government liquor store monopoly “can throw out a producer or importer if they don’t meet stock levels or launch dates,” says Mathias Wideroth, the founder and chairman of Scanlog, a minimal-impact logistics company. Suppliers demand air freight in order to hit deadlines. “You destroy your annual GHG goal that way,” says Wideroth. Scanlog offers to offset air freight emissions with the purchase of sustainable aviation fuel, but the cost can prove too exorbitant for wholesale clients.  

For DTC, offsets might be better than nothing when customers insist on air transport. “We encourage them to do ground, and we charge additional money for expedited shipping,” says Quillé. “We would love to deploy a carbon calculator so they could see the footprint of the shipment. But it’s a fine line between information and shaming. We could offer them offsetting, like airlines do. I’m not a big fan, but it’s a solution to feel you haven’t destroyed the planet by getting six bottles of Cab.”

Climate-Optimizing Ground Transport 

Though ground transportation is less harmful than air, it is the second-most carbon-intensive mode. According to one study, road transport emits 137 grams of greenhouse gasses per ton of cargo per kilometer—nearly six times that of rail and almost 20 times that of sea transport. Fortunately, there are new solutions to trucking’s impact, like the hub model that Spottswoode uses.

“The most efficient way to save emissions is consolidating,” says Frederick D’Angelo, the USA business development manager for the DHL subsidiary Hillebrand Gori, a specialty shipper for wine and spirits. Instead of moving many small loads, or bringing imports all the way to the West Coast and shipping them back East, he explains, “we have distributors build a full load, give them discounts, then ship directly to a warehouse in a region, saving time, money, and emissions.” Hillebrand Gori’s customer website shows the door-to-door impact for each shipper, origin, and type of wine.

Napa-based Benchmark Wine Group recently exceeded the 50 percent mark for refrigerated truck deliveries to hubs, selling the method as Climate Controlled Shipping. How the wine is packed lowers costs and emissions, too. “Instead of taking 12 bottles in a large box and getting 20 on a pallet, we leave them in the original cases and move twice as much with the same amount of fuel,” says founder and CEO David Parker. 

“Instead of taking 12 bottles in a large box and getting 20 on a pallet, we leave them in the original cases and move twice as much with the same amount of fuel,” says David Parker, the founder and CEO of Benchmark Wine Group. 

Many wineries are lowering the weight of their biggest GHG emitter, the glass, but as Parker points out, there are savings to be had in the rest of the packaging. Ryan Johnson, the director of marketing for California’s Ridge Vineyards, says the producer is “debunking the paradigm of super-premium wines” by switching from three-bottle wooden boxes to lighter, recyclable corrugated containers with dissolvable corn inserts. The IWCA member is also shipping to on-premise accounts with Free Flow Wines, a sustainable packaging service, whose kegs can be transported double stacked. “This works out to 1,040 bottles’ worth per pallet versus 672 bottles shipped in glass,” says Free Flow’s vice president of business development Barclay Webster. He calculates the GHG reduction for just the transport at 20 to 25 percent.

Larger wine groups are minimizing trucking between their facilities. Crimson used to ship glass to Washington for bottling at its Seven Hills Winery, then truck the wines back to California to be distributed. Now they bring wine in bulk from Washington and bottle it a mile from their warehouse. Steve Tamburelli, the president of the Napa logistics company Wine Service Co-op, dreams of taking such a concept further, consolidating winemaking, bottling, and fulfillment on one campus for his clients. “It would be the greenest way a bottle of wine gets to a consumer,” he says.

For smaller wineries, the most climate-friendly solution might be self distribution. California Central Coast’s Pali Wine Co. sells almost all its wines out of its tasting rooms in Santa Barbara, San Diego, Los Angeles, Anaheim, and Lompoc. Previously, the winery fulfilled tasting room orders on an as-needed basis via a logistics partner. “It was incredibly inefficient,” says owner Nick Perr. Nowadays, Pali loads its own truck with bottles and bulk wines for all of its tasting rooms biweekly. With pickup parties and discounts, Perr incentivizes wine club members to retrieve their wines at a tasting room, and tasting room managers have learned to plan ahead.

Advancements in Trucking

Technologically, “they’re way ahead in Europe,” says D’Angelo. The French logistics company and négociant Maison Johanès Boubée has piloted a double-floored truck from Transports Jégou. After pallets are loaded, hydraulics lift the bed and truck roof, exposing a second floor and accommodating twice the cargo. “This allowed us to avoid 103,000 kilometers of travel in 2022,” says Isabelle Charnot, Boubée’s director of quality and sustainable development. The company is also experimenting with trucks run on a circular-economy bioethanol made from grape marc by SICA Raisinor France Alcools, at an 80 percent CO2 reduction. 

Vins de Bordeaux encourages winegrowers to work with transporters certified by Objectif CO2 or Fret 21, which are decarbonizing through means such as eco-driving (a gentler style that lowers emissions) and use of electric vehicles for the “last mile” from warehouse to customer. 

Electric trucks are coming to the States, too. Republic National Distributing Company is experimenting with electric yard trucks. “Over a 15-year lifespan, replacing one heavy-use diesel with an electric terminal truck reduces emissions equivalent to 2,500 tons of carbon dioxide, 26 tons nitrous oxide, 13 tons carbon monoxide, and 2.7 tons of particulate matter,” says Camille Davis, the manager for corporate responsibility. 

With California’s state mandate that half of heavy trucks sold must be electric by 2035, zero-emissions freight will be a reality there, says Kim Oster, the former chief strategy officer for Forum Mobility, which provides logistics companies with zero-emission trucks and charging stations. With help from the federal Inflation Reduction and Infrastructure Acts, financial incentives are built into the plan. 

Republic National Distributing Company is experimenting with the use of electric yard trucks to reduce emissions. Photo courtesy of RNDC.

The statewide fleet overhaul requires installing 153 medium- and high-power chargers a day, Oster estimates, plus an upgrade to California’s grid. “But the benefits go beyond CO2. Near Oakland’s port, there’s twice the cancer rate. That’s the big driver: improved health for disadvantaged communities, smog reduction, and quiet.” New York, Washington, and other states are following California’s lead. “Transportation is the next frontier in decarbonization,” says Oster, “and trucking is the low-hanging fruit.” 

That’s what Sonoma County Winegrowers discovered last year when it piloted Ford Lightning electric vans and pickups, along with Ford Telematics fleet management software to help farmers monitor, and decrease, their teams’ idling times and attendant carbon footprint. “The goal was operational efficiency for farmers while lowering their emissions,” says Sonoma County Winegrowers president Karissa Kruse. At solar-powered Dutton Ranch, the Ford Lightnings cost 20 cents a mile to operate versus 60 cents for fossil-fuel trucks.

Returning to Rail and River

One train, Charnot says, emits just three tons of CO2 and carries the cargo of 45 trucks, which would otherwise emit 44 tons. But to use trains, there must be tracks. “When we have regular routes, these are solutions we can put in place. Since we have a logistics site in the north of France, in 2022 we put 900 trucks on trains on a south-north axis. That’s the equivalent of 630 tons of CO2 that we didn’t emit.”

For imports, tracks must be compatible between countries. Scanlog moves 40 percent of its cargo by rail, but not from Spain because trains there run on a different gauge. Rail freight also takes careful coordination. “Most producers don’t have a rail head at their facility,” says Wideroth, “so we pick up goods by truck to take to the rail terminal. But you have to work in one or two days’ more lead time because there are fewer trains.” Scanlog loads 14 trains a week, each carrying up to 50 truckloads of wine. “Most clients can fill a truck but not a train,” he explains, which means they have to accept having competitors’ pallets on the same car.

Trains carry only 5.4 percent of freight within Europe, where rail transport has been declining for nearly a century. The EU hopes to double rail transport by 2030; that will take investment. “European railways are under-innovated. The equipment is from the 1960s,” says Wideroth. “You could employ A.I. to use the tracks in a much smarter way with less space between trains and manipulation of speeds to increase the capacity.” 

While Europe’s trains are mainly electric, in the U.S., where freight trains carry a greater volume of long-distance shipments than other modes of transport, engines run on diesel. Yet, they are still three to four times more fuel efficient than trucks. That’s why Wine Service Co-op ships via refrigerated train cars to a yard near its new Kentucky fulfillment center. “We take 65 percent of carbon emissions out of the process,” says Tamburelli.

… river freight emits between 1.3 and two times less CO2, says Voigt, with “the absence of noise, congestion, infrastructure degradation, and accidents.”

An equally clean option is via rivers and canals. Last year, a group of organic Bordelais winemakers sent pallets on barges to Paris, where Le Comptoir Dionysien, a cooperative of grocers, growers, and producers, delivered them by cargo bike. The trip takes two months and costs nearly twice as much as trucking. But river freight emits between 1.3 and two times less CO2, says Voigt, with “the absence of noise, congestion, infrastructure degradation, and accidents.” Still, given few appropriate waterways, barge travel is unscalable. It accounts for only 1.8 percent of European freight. And with climate change drying up and flooding rivers, it is also unpredictable. 

Cleaning up Cargo Ships

A cargo ship emits just seven grams of greenhouse gasses per ton per kilometer. But with 60,000 of them carrying 90 percent of the world’s goods, emissions total three percent of global GHGs. That’s comparable to the emissions of Japan or Germany, says Dr. Lucy Gilliam, the senior shipping policy officer at Seas at Risk, a European coalition for protection of the ocean. 

The UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO), which regulates ships, met in July to tighten its climate goals. Though the outcome—decarbonization “by or around, i.e. close to 2050, taking into account different national circumstances,” in IMO language—seems “wishy-washy,” says Gilliam, “the shipping sector will still need to make major changes to meet these new targets, requiring maximizing energy efficiency, deploying market-ready clean-tech options like electrification and wind propulsion, as well as finding low-emission alternatives for fossil fuels.” 

Such technologies, she notes, are “ready to scale.” In development are Oceanbird Wing, Computed Wing Sail, WindWings, Oceanwings—all sky-high, vertical, solid sails that can be retrofitted onto ships for transport by wind. Low-carbon shipbuilders like France’s Zéphyr & Borée are developing new vessels that incorporate the structures. The Finnish company Norsepower is building tiltable rotors that look like smoke stacks but act as wind propellers. The French company Airseas is constructing the Seawing, a 1,000-square-meter kite that tows cargo ships by filling with wind.

Other tech advances include batteries to store and discharge energy; electrification in port, so ships can cut their engines to decrease local pollution; and, despite toxicity and combustion issues, alternative fuels like methane, hydrogen, and ammonia. Beyond that, just slowing ship speeds brings reductions to emissions, noise, pollution, and marine mammal strikes. Standing in the way are shipping contracts that stipulate fast delivery. “Client expectations have to change,” says Gilliam.

Bulk Shipping and Sail Freight 

Wine importers can help. Some, like the U.K.’s Wine Society, are buddying up with competitors to fill containers, a practice called groupage shipping. Other companies are bulk shipping. Sustainable Wine Solutions, also based in the U.K., where the practice is increasingly common, imports European wines in light, returnable bottles and in 1,000-kiloliter plastic bladders called flexitanks. “The carbon savings with bulk wine compared to a bottle is like 90 percent, and the bottle return is an 80 percent savings,” says Muriel Chatel, the managing director of Sustainable Wine Solutions.

Still others are stowing wines in the holds of old-school schooners operated by companies like Fairtransport, Grain de Sail, and Timbercoast. Producers ranging from Bordeaux’s organic B-Corp winery, Ethic Drinks, to Pernod Ricard’s luxury subsidiary Martell Mumm Perrier-Jouët ship with Brittany’s TransOceanic Wind Transport (TOWT). Founded in 2011, TOWT first contracted Fairtransport sailboats to bring organic French wines to Britain and Portuguese wines to France and Northern Europe. Now it is launching two 250-foot schooners of its own in 2024 for monthly sails between France and the U.S. Each will carry 1,000 tons of cargo, the equivalent of 150 20-foot containers, at a 90 percent lower carbon footprint than diesel ships. 

The Ford Pro team with California farmers in the Ford F-150 Lightning electric truck, which is being piloted on vineyards in Sonoma County. Photo courtesy of Ford Pro.

The wine in the hold stays at a steady, near-seawater temperature “so you never need a cold container,” says Guillaume Le Grand, the CEO and cofounder of TOWT. “Our Anemos label, featuring the Greek god of favorable winds, is on each bottle, guaranteeing transparent, traceable, carbon-free transport by sail.” The cost is slightly higher than regular shipping, but it’s stable, even when oil price increases spike diesel freight rates. 

Martell Mumm Perrier-Jouët expects to export more than 400,000 bottles this way yearly, saving over 30 grams of CO2 per bottle. Given the benefits of sail transport, “a schooner is not a word of the past,” says Le Grand. “It is a word of the future.” 

Collective Action Between Wineries 

“It would be great if the wine industry came together and made public statements like, ‘We would like to be able to choose zero-emissions shipping. We want robust targets.’ It helps entrepreneurs bring the technology to market,” argues Gilliam. She suggests joining Cargo Owners for Zero Emission Vessels, or coZEV, a coalition of retailers and importers pushing for carbon-free shipping. 

Collective action also underpins the IWCA. Josep Maria Ribas Portella is the climate and sustainability director of Spain’s Familia Torres and an IWCA cofounder. “A little company like Torres doesn’t have much of a say,” he says. “So promoting greener ways of transportation via IWCA is one of our strategies to raise this issue within the wine sector and push big logistics players.” Familia Torres has shored up cooperation from within its own supply chain. “We ask suppliers to use the ISO 14064 standard to verify their carbon footprint,” says Portella, “and we motivate them with an annual awards ceremony, including an award for the logistics company that most reduced their emissions. It creates momentum.”

For Louisa Rose, the head winemaker at Australian IWCA member Hill-Smith Family Estates, the message is clear. “No one industry is going to save the planet, but working together maybe we can make some change.”



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Betsy Andrews is an award-winning journalist and poet. Her latest book is Crowded. Her writing can be found at

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